Sunday, January 14, 2007

How Not to Argue Against the "Christian Nation" Crowd:

The way Chris Hedges does in his book, "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America." The New York Times gave it a poor review (ironic, in that he used to report for them), and so did the Baltimore Sun, because it simply goes too far and overstates its case (and plays into the hands of the reactionaries, who now term books like Hedges' "hate literature" against Christians).

And while the so called "war on Christians" theme is generally bunk, given Hedges' prescription (which by the way, will never happen), Christianists would have a valid complaint of persecution. From the Baltimore Sun review:

Nevertheless, Hedges concludes that the Christian right "should no longer be tolerated," because it "would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible." What does he think should be done? He endorses the view that "any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law," and therefore we should treat "incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal." Thus he rejects the First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and religion, and court rulings that permit prosecution for speech only if there is an imminent threat to particular individuals.

Emotional overreaction seems to have ruined what could otherwise have been a thoughtful, informative book. So what caused Hedges to overreact? Things like the following. From the same article:

Hedges also goes to the National Religious Broadcasters' annual convention, where 5,500 Christian TV and radio folk gather in Anaheim. And he joins a five-day "Evangelism Explosion" seminar in Florida to learn tactics for converting people to the Christian right's version of Christ. That conference is run by D. James Kennedy, whose The Coral Ridge Hour is seen weekly on more than 600 TV stations. There, he and 60 other people learn the sales pitch and how to fake friendship for the potential convert. Then they talk about sin. The aspiring evangelists also are told that "eternal life cannot be achieved through good deeds or even a good life," that there is no escape from sin, that belief in Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

But the key message Hedges and the others are taught to deliver is that conversion obliterates "our fear of death, not only for ourselves, but the fear we have of losing those we love" - for example, children or spouses fighting in Iraq. This, Hedges argues, is "not only dishonest but cruel," because the fear of death cannot be banished.

This message is also dangerous, Hedges writes, because the goal of the Christian right is "not simply conversion but also eventual recruitment into a political movement to create a Christian nation," where constitutional freedoms would be replaced by biblical law, as interpreted by evangelical leaders. Kennedy has been clear about this goal: "As the vice regents of God," the Florida-based minister has written, "we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government," as well as "our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors. ... "

I don't know how far Robertson or Falwell would go, but I do know from constant monitoring of D. James Kennedy that he is one of the so called "dominionists." He even has his "Center for Reclaiming America" which purports to take back America from those who stole it from the Christianists. The problem is Kennedy's historical claims are fraudulent. They have (and contra Hedges, ought to have) every right to engage in political activism; but if conservative evangelicals/fundamentalists understood history, not the revisionist twaddle Kennedy et al. feed them, perhaps they would be less zealous about trying to reclaim something they never owned. (And many conservative evangelicals do indeed understand Kennedy is full of it on this matter.)

Just today I watched Kennedy give one of his revisionist lectures to his Center for Reclaiming America. And off the top of my head I recall the following errors:

1) Equating America's Founding with Columbus and the earlier colonial orders, as opposed to what when down between 1776-1787.

2) To prove America was "founded" by Christians for Christians, offering the following phony quotation by Patrick Henry, which seems on point:

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!

The problem is Patrick Henry never said it. Perhaps Kennedy never got the memo from David Barton, the person primarily responsible for spreading that and other "unconfirmed quotations" as he euphemistically termed them. And by the way, on this year's broadcasts, Kennedy has cited almost all those quotations.

3) Asserting that Jefferson, while President of the United States insisted on having the Bible used as a textbook in the DC public schools, which is another David Barton myth. As the late Leonard Levy put it, "In matters of education, however, Jefferson was a complete secularist, never deviating in any significant degree."

4) Claiming that Jefferson and Franklin were practically the only two "non-born again evangelical Christians" among our Founding Fathers, which again, is utter nonsense. At the very least we know that Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, Alexander Hamilton (before his conversion towards the end of his life), James Wilson, Thomas Paine, and Ethan Allen, were not orthodox Christians, certainly not "born again evangelical Christians."

Get well Jim Kennedy. As long as you keep shoveling it, I will have a job to do here.

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